Any visitor to San Francisco who still hankers for the Summer of Love might seek some solace in the Red Victorian bed and breakfast on Haight Street, between Belvedere and Cole.
The Jefferson Hotel, as it was originally known, was opened in 1904 as a resting place for visitors to the newly opened Golden Gate Park, but had its name changed to Jeffrey-Haight in that momentous year of 1967.
Ten years later it was bought by a 52 year old Washington state born doctor in Transformational Art and Societal Change, Sami Sunchild, who immediately set about painting its façade red with 9 other trim colours and renaming it the Red Victorian (though the building is Edwardian of course). Her aim since then has been for the “Red Vic” to embody the ideals that, if only briefly, pervaded the Haight a decade before her arrival – peace, concern for the environment, a sense of community and social justice.
From here Sunchild runs her myriad operations – the non-profit making Peaceful World Foundation, the Peaceful World Center, the Peaceful World Café, the Living Peace Museum and the Peace Arts Gallery, which contains her own bright and colourful artwork in the form of t-shirts, postcards, posters, peace buttons and mugs, available for purchase in the adjoining gift shop.
Every Sunday morning, from 9.00 to 10.30, or as long as its participants want it to last, Sunchild holds “World Conversations” or “conversation cafés”, which “bring people together to talk about topics that matter in their own lives and in the world as a whole”. These are seen as an “opportunity for San Franciscans and travelers alike to get together and share stories of our lives and the lessons we’ve learned, make new friendships and engage in open dialogue”.
In addition to these semi-formal events, guests are encouraged to engage in conversation with the owner and each other over breakfast, whilst passers by are welcome to “drop in” for a chat at any time.
Sunchild, who has travelled extensively, including the Polynesian Islands and much of Europe and North Africa, hopes through her work to build “a global network of travelers and conversationalists committed to doing good for the world and each other”.
Back in the sixties the rooms in the hotel served as “crash pads”, containing Indian bedspreads and other hippie paraphenalia, and accommodated as many occupants as could be crammed in! Using what she calls “Transformational Interior Design”, which enhances the consciousness of her guests, Sunchild has restored it to the state where it now boasts 18 guest rooms, each of which has been designed and decorated by her with an specific theme, such as the Japanese Tea Garden, Flower Child, Redwood Forest and, of course, the Summer of Love (complete with Grateful Dead posters!).
Internet reviews of the Red Vic reveal that Sunchild’s enterprise excites strong emotions. Many celebrate it for its living embodiment of the hippie ideals espoused in the time when Jerry Garcia, Janis Joplin and Grace Slick were residents of the area. Staff are universally regarded as friendly and helpful, and words such as “quirky”, “quaint”, “funky” and “eccentric” are regularly uttered with a smile by visitors and residents alike.
Others complain, however, about a dark, dreary, rundown feel, and lament the lack of private bathrooms in most of the rooms, though those that there are, both private and shared, are beautifully decorated. Radios, TVs, refrigerators and ice machines, staples of a more conventional modern hotel, are conspicuous by their absence. Wireless connection can also be unreliable. And the verdict on the food and drink available in the café is similarly mixed.
On my previous visit (preparing this article has refuelled my desire to go again on my upcoming trip), I found the people welcoming, if, perhaps, a little earnest, and the coffee and vegetarian sandwiches wholesome.
So if you want to get a glimpse, warts and all, of what it might have been like to stay in the neighbourhood in those “heady” days, this is as close as you are likely to come in modern day San Francisco. Moreover, if you want to understand what makes a historic part of the city tick, a visit to Sami Sunchild’s Red Victorian is essential.
And when you do, pay heed to the words of Sunchild’s When you travel:
When you travel take peacemaking, friendship, learning, and listening as your sacred, God given duty. Refuse to carry with you an empty head or an empty heart. Give thanks for every human encounter, every bird, animal, every plant that shares this gorgeous planet. Thank them, talk to them, nourish them. Let no greed or selfish thoughts distract you. Let no anger, anxiety, or bitterness accompany you.
Travel unencumbered by too much stuff or by too many pre-conceived ideas. Enter every new encounter with gratitude for another opportunity to learn and listen. To be the happiest and best travel ambassador on earth.
Affirm the natural ability to balance out the injustices of the world. Know that hate crimes will cease when we listen to each other, when selfishness and envy are replaced with compassion and even enemies become friends. Hold in you mind a vision of a peaceful world where travelers are the sowers and seeds of joy!
This message emanates from one of the more than 50 Peace Posters that Sunchild has designed and created and which can be found at www.peacearts.com .
Finally, I am extremely grateful that Sami has taken the time and trouble to proofread this post and given her personal blessing to its contents.